False Friends

Learning about wine is a bit like learning a new language, and when learning a new language there’s bound to be some points of confusion or “false friends“.  Here are a few wine terms that are easily mistaken.

Claret vs Clairette

  • Claret is a British term for red wine from Bordeaux, France.
  • Clairette is a white grape used in winemaking in the Rhône Valley in France

Muscat vs. Muscadet vs. Muscadelle

  • Muscat is a family of grapes that has varieties used in wine making and for eating.  In Italy, the sparking wine Moscato is made from the the Muscat grape.  In France and Spain, Muscat grapes are often used to make fortified wines.
  • Muscadet is a dry, white wine made in the Loire Valley from the grape called Melon de Bourgogne.  It is not related to the Muscat family of grapes – it is a cross between  Gouais blanc and  Pinot blanc.
  • Muscadelle is another white grape that is used for blending in the Bordeaux region in France.  It is not related to the Muscat family of grapes – it is a cross between Gouais blanc and an unidentified grape variety.

Syrah and Petit Sirah

  • Syrah is a red wine grape originating from France.  Syrah is known as Shiraz, in Australia.
  • Petit Sirah is a red wine grape that resulted from a crossing of Syrah and Peloursin Grapes.  Petit Sirah is also known as Durif.

Pouilly-Fumé  vs. Pouilly-Fuissé

  • Pouilly-Fumé is a wine region in the Loire Valley of France that is known for its Sauvignon Blanc wines.
  • Pouilly-Fuissé is a wine region in Burgundy, France that is known for its Chardonnay wines.

VDN vs. VDL

  • VDN stands for vins doux naturel.  VDNs are fortified wines, common in the south of France, where brandy is added to the wine to stop the fermentation.
  • VDL stands for vin de liquer.  VDLs are also fortified wines; however, the brandy is added to the unfermented grape juice.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo vs. Vino Nobile de Montepulciano

  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is made in the region of Abruzzo, from the Montepulciano grapes.
  • Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is made in the town of Montepulciano, from Sangiovese grapes.

 

Méthode Champenoise

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Sparkling wine adds a festive air to any event, but the bubbles in Champagne have not always been a source of celebration.  In the early production of wine in the Champagne region of France, the bubbles were considered a flaw and were causing some major problems.

The Champagne region is France’s northernmost wine region and has the coolest climate.  The cool climate means that the grapes don’t always fully ripen, which results in tart flavors and high acid.  The cool climate also affects the fermentation.  Normally, fermentation will continue as long as there is sugar for the yeast to convert.  However, if the temperature drops below 50°, the yeast will go dormant.  The early vinters in Champagne would see that the yeast had stopped producing COand mistakenly think that the fermentation had completed.  The wine would be aged and bottled, but then, in the spring when the temperature rose, fermentation would begin again and create COin the bottles.  The bottles were not built to withstand the pressure and many would burst.

Eventually, the winemakers realized  that the cold temperature was the root of the problem, so they moved the wine-making underground into the caves, where the temperature was more stable.  Now the grapes could be fully fermented into a still, dry wine.   However, the bubbles had become desirable, so the winemakers started to add a mixture of wine, sugar and yeast (liqueur de triage), to instigate a secondary fermentation to generate a controlled amount of bubbles and pressure.

At the end of secondary fermentation and while aging, the bottles are slowly rotated in a manner that forces the dead yeast cells to accumulate in the neck of the bottle.  This process is known as remuage or riddling.   Next is the dégorgement step, where the neck of the bottle is dipped into a solution that freezes and expels the yeast sediment.  Finally, the bottle is topped up with  a blend of wine and sugar (liqueur d’expedition).  This final step is called dosage and determines the sweetness of the Champagne.  These are the official levels of sweetness for Champagne:

Brut nature: 0-3 g/L
Extra Brut: 0-6 g/L
Brut: 0-12 g/L
Extra Dry: 12-17 g/L
Sec: 17-32 g/L
Demi-Sec: 32-50 g/L
Doux: 50+ g/L

This technique of  secondary fermentation in the bottle has became know as méthode champenoise or méthode tradionnelle.  To protect regional identity, only wines from the Champagne region in France can use the name Champagne or the term méthode champenoise on their labels.  Sparkling wine from other regions in France is usually called Crémant and can list méthode tradionnelle when secondary fermentation is done in the bottle.

 

4 French Wine Regions

franceFrance has been creating some of the most prestigious wine for centuries.  To maintain this high level of quality, French wine production is governed by the L’Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INOA).  The INOA regulates the different wine regions (AOCs or appellation d’origine contrôlée) throughout the country by providing rules to define a regional style and identity (or terroir) through grape growing and wine making techniques.  Terroir is a French term used to explain how wine reflects its place of origin.  Terroir encompasses all environmental factors that affect the grape/wine, such as climate, geography, soil, weather, wine making techniques, etc.

The AOCs vary in size and can be nested within each other.  Below I will outline some of the appellations within 4  key regions: Loire Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone Valley.

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Loire Valley
Climate: Maritime to Continental
Geography: Loire River
Soil: Chalky
Grapes: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Cabernet Franc
Sub-regions:

  • Pays Nantais (Muscadet)
    • Sèvre-et-Maine AOC
  • Anjou-Saumur
    • Savennières AOC (Chenin Blanc)
    • Quarts de Chaume AOC (Sweet, botrytized Chenin Blanc)
  • Touraine
    • Chinon AOC (Cabernet Franc)
    • Vouvray AOC (Chenin Blanc)
  • Central Vineyards
    • Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc)
    • Pouilly Fumé AOC (Sauvignon Blanc)

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Burgundy (Bourgogne AOC)
Climate: Cool-Moderate, Continental
Soil: Limestone and Marl in the North; Granite in the South
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay
Sub-regions:

  • Chablis (Chardonnay)
  • Cote d’Or
    • Cote de Nuits (famous for Pinot Noir)
    • Cotes de Beaune (famous for Chardonnay)
  • Cote Chalonnais (mostly Chardonnay)
  • Maconnais (mostly Chardonnay)
  • Beaujolais (Gamay)

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Bordeaux (Bordeaux AOC)
Climate: Moderate, Maritime
Geography: Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, and the Gironde estuary
Soil: Gravel over limestone
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Carmenère; Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle
Sub-regions:

  • Left Bank (Cabernet Sauvignon dominated red blends)
    • Haut Médoc AOC, which contains four famous wine communes:
      • St. Estèphe
      • Pauillac
      • St. Julien
      • Margaux
    • Graves AOC
      • Pessac-Léognan AOC
      • Sauternes AOC (Sweet, botrytized white wines_
  • Right Bank( Merlot dominated red blends)
    • Pomerol AOC
    • St. Emilion AOC
  • Entre deux Mers (Dry, white wine)

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Rhône Valley (Côtes du Rhône AOC)
Climate: Moderate, Continental to Warm, Mediterrannean
Geography: Rhone Rivers
Soil: Granite and clay in the North; Stoney (pudding stones, aka les galets) in the South
Grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier
Sub-regions:

  • Northern Rhone (Syrah dominated wines)
    • Côte-Rôtie AOC
    • Condrieu AOC (white only from Viognier)
    • St-Joseph AOC
    • Hermitage AOC and Crozes-Hermitage AOC
    • Cornas AOC
  • Southern Rhone (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre blends)
    • Châteauneuf du Pape AOC
    • Gigondas AOC
    • Tavel AOC (rosé only)

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Wine Pairing Basics

We all know that food and wine were meant to be together, but not all combinations are ideal.  It can be quite daunting to try to find that “perfect pair”, but here are some basics guidelines:

  • Match the overall quality and intensity of the food and wine 
  • Decide whether to complement or contrast the flavors
  • Wine and food from the same region are usually complementary
  • Acidity in wine can cut through fatty foods and balance out saltiness
  • High tannin wines can over power delicate flavors, but also cuts through fatty foods
  • Spicy food can be alleviated with a sweet wine, while high tannins will increase the heat sensation

I was able to put these ideas to the test the other night in my sommelier class with seven different pairings.

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  • Goat Cheese with 2015 Cailbourdin Pouilly Fumé, AOC Loire Valley, France    
    • This pairing neutralizes some of the acidity in both the cheese and the wine, making the cheese seem even creamier.         
  • Grilled Chicken with 2013 Faiveley Mercurey, AOC Blanc Clos Rochette, France  
    • The light oak on this Chardonnay accentuates the grilled flavor on the chicken.
  • Duck Breast with 2014 Lynmar Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley AVA, California   
    • The acidity cuts through the fattiness of the duck and the earthiness of the Pinot complements the gamey flavor of the duck.
  • Roast Pork with 2011 Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico, DOCG Tuscany, Italy 
    • The fruit in the wine brought out some nice flavor in the pork.
  • Seared Ham with 2015 J.H. Selbach  Riesling Spätlese, QmP Mosel, Germany
    • The subtle sweetness of the wine was delicious with the salty ham.
  • Foie Gras with 2009 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes, AOC Bordeaux, France
    • This sweet wine brings out some of the saltiness of the foie, and the foie balanced out the sweetness of the wine.
  • Roquefort NV Graham’s Six Grapes  Ruby Port, Porto DOC, Portugal 
    • Another sweet-salty combination, that smoothed out the blue cheese and highlighted the richness of the port.

Overall, each person has slightly different tastes, but when you do find a “perfect pair”, it is delicious.

Taking it up a notch

The more I learn about wine, the more that I want to know.  Thus, I have decided to take mStudy Materialsy wine education up a notch, and I have enrolled in the Intensive Sommelier Training Program at the International Culinary Center in NYC.  This is a 17 week program that prepares students to take the Certified Sommelier Examination, administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers.  This is the second of four examinations that are required to become a Master Sommelier.  There are only 236 Master Sommeliers in the world, and all are highly regarded as wine and service experts.  There is an excellent documentary called Somm that presents the extreme dedication and rigorous study that is required of four men aspiring to achieve the level of Master.  At this point, I will be more than thrilled to pass the Certified Examination in the fall, but I have lots of studying to do between now and then.  I hope to continue blogging as time permits and to share some of my newfound wine knowledge, so stay tuned!

Sauvignon Blanc Day on Friday

 

The first Friday in May is International Sauvignon Blanc day, so here’s a little background to help you prepare for the festivities.

Sauvignon Blanc is a white grape that originated in France, where it is  still widely planted in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux .  However, it has also become popular in many New World wine regions, such as Chile, South Africa, and California, but especially New Zealand, where it has become their most widely planted grape.

Sauvignon Blanc is a dry, white wine, with high acidity.  It is often described as crisp and refreshing, and it is one of my favorite wines for summer.  I find Sauvignon Blanc easy to drink on its own, but with its herbal and mineral qualities, it also makes an excellent pairing for fresh vegetables, salads,  fish/seafood, sushi,  and raw oysters.

Common fruit flavors for Sauvignon Blanc are lime (and other citrus), honeydew melon, green apple, and peach.  Additionally, Sauvignon Blanc is known for strong non-fruit flavors such as fresh grass, bell pepper, and chalky minerals.

 

Malbec World Day

 

IMG_20170417_220643_193April 17th was designated as Malbec World Day in 2011 by Wines of Argentia to commemorate the day in 1853, when president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento declared his mission to revive and expand the Argentinian wine market.  Sarmiento sought the expertise of a French soil expert, Michel Pouget, who brought over a selection of vines, including some Malbec.  In France, Malbec was mainly used for blending, because the thin-skinned grapes were highly susceptible to frost, disease and rot.  However, in the drier climate of Mendoza, Argentina, the Malbec vines thrived.  The warmth in Argentina brought out a more fruit-forward flavor in the wines, in contrast to the strong tannins of the French Malbecs.  For many years, the Malbec varietal was only common within Argentina, but in the early 2000s, the popularity started to spread due to its easy drinkability and bargain price.  Malbec wine is often described as both juicy, with flavors of cherries, plums, and berries (blackberries/raspberries), and bold, with flavors like smoke/tobabbo, leather, and black pepper.   Despite their thin skin, Malbec grapes are a dark purple color, which leads to nearly opaque wine with a deep purple/red color.  Malbecs pair well with earthy or smokey foods (BBQ anyone?) or strong flavors, like funky cheese.  Happy Malbec World Day!